There has been no shortage of press for the Juggalo March, which in case you haven’t heard, is happening this Saturday, September 16th. The latest article to surface is one that I have been looking forward to reading. You never know how the media will spin something you say, but in this instance, The Guardian stayed true to their word. They reached out to me a little over a week ago, and you’ll see a few quotes from me, along with a Juggalette named Laura King whose life has been turned upside down due to a Hatchetman on the back of her neck.
Again, pure discrimination regardless of her trials and tribulations, based on being a fan of a certain type of music. Check out the full article below.
‘We’re not gang members, we’re just misfits’: Juggalos protest FBI’s label
Someone at the probation office had seen the Hatchetman tattoo on the back of 30-year-old Laura King’s neck. She had worn her hair up, revealing the figure of a little running man carrying a hatchet. The next time she checked in, six months into her sentence, her probation officer informed her that she needed to speak to someone from the gang task force.
Laura King, a musician from northern Virginia, had been serving probation for driving under the influence – but now, she suddenly found herself accused of being a gang member.
Hatchetman is the logo for Psychopathic Records, the Michigan-based record label founded by Insane Clown Posse, an alternative hip-hop duo known for their clown makeup and violent, occult-themed lyrics. The group’s fans, known as Juggalos, have formed a tightly-knit community with distinctive characteristics: they address each other as “ninja,” wear face paint, and have a particular appreciation for Faygo, an inexpensive soda brand from Michigan.
Juggalos consider themselves a family. The US government considers them a gang. The Juggalos will be fighting back on 16 September, marching on Washington DC to tell the world about what they are, and what they’re not.
In 2011, the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center released a report that listed Juggalos as a “hybrid gang” – that is, a gang that crosses the racial and cultural lines around which traditional gangs tend to form. The Juggalos are “loosely-organized,” according to the report, but are “rapidly expanding into many US communities.” The section ends with a photograph of a woman in clown makeup, holding a gun.
There have indeed been cases of Juggalo-related violence. In 2008, two men – one of whom had a Hatchetman tattoo on his forearm – killed a homeless man near a construction site in Seattle. Five years later in Las Vegas, Stephen Giles, a 21-year-old self-identified Juggalo, attacked a man with a meat cleaver.
“But if a guy commits a robbery and he’s got a Metallica tattoo, nobody jumps on that,” said Scott Donihoo, who runs a Juggalo fan site called Faygoluvers.net.
Donihoo has been a fan of Insane Clown Posse for nearly two decades. Every year, he attends the Gathering of the Juggalos, Psychopathic Records’ annual outdoor festival, which features carnival rides and professional wrestling alongside live concerts. He sees the group whenever they tour near his home in north Texas.
Donihoo estimates that he has been to more than 100 Insane Clown Posse concerts, but he still remembers the frst time he saw the group play. “It was completely unlike any concert I’d ever been to,” he said. “When you get out of your car in the parking lot, even if you don’t know them, Juggalos will just welcome you and give you a high-five and a hug.”
An Insane Clown Posse show is a veritable experience, even for those who are notfans of the group’s music. Donihoo usually spends around $25 on a concert ticket, a relatively low cost of admission for an evening of antics. Juggalos chant “family, family” and douse each other with sugary Faygo soda, an act often compared to the ritual of baptism. The atmosphere is one of aggressive camaraderie.
It’s not to everyone’s taste, however. Juggalos had been accustomed to a certain level of degradation in mainstream culture; Spin once described the Gathering of the Juggalos as “a tragic display of American trash culture’s bloated, badly tattooed underbelly.” But after the FBI’s 2011 report, Juggalos began to notice abuse that went far beyond ridicule from music magazines: they were being profiled by law enforcement.
To fans like Laura King, this is a direct affront to a band that helped changed their lives for the better.
King was raped when she was 16. Afterwards, her classmates branded her a slut. King began drinking and using cocaine. She became suicidal.
“Right before the rape happened, I’d been an honors student,” said King. “Then that happened, and I was like, screw it all.”
One day, while driving, a friend wanted her to listen to a funny song from Insane Clown Posse’s 1997 album, Great Milenko. King’s friend forgot the CD in her car, and she let it keep playing. The lyrics of the song Under The Moon went like this:
Somebody tried to rape you, and now I’ll make them pay
You pointed him out to me, my thoughts began to race
I took my daddy’s 45 and shot him in the fucking face!
“Something about the darkness in the lyrics reflected the darkness that was in me at that point in time,” said King. “Some of those songs, they’re about killing rapists. So it was a coping mechanism for me.”
King had never known any Juggalos, but once she sought them out, she was instantly accepted into a loving community. She credits her Juggalo friends with helping her manage her trauma. King has now attended four iterations of the Gathering of the Juggalos, and describes it as a place where she can truly feel at home.
“We’re not gang members,” she said. “We’re just a group of misfits who’ve found camaraderie in each other. Obviously, I’d made some mistakes. But I haven’t made the kind of mistakes that would make me a gang member.”
She explained to the gang task force officer that the tattoo represented nothing more than some music she listened to. She argued that she had gotten the tattoo in 2006, five years before the FBI’s report. But the officer could not be convinced: that day, King became a validated gang member.
King was given new, stricter probation terms. She could not visit any school grounds unless she was a student of that school, or was the parent or legal guardian of a student. She could no longer attend her two nieces’ dance recitals. She could not associate with any “gang members”— including Juggalos, many of whom she counted among her closest friends.
“It kills me that such a positive thing in my life would end up sinking me,” said King.
After the National Gang Intelligence Center’s report in 2011, Juggalos started to share their accounts of being questioned by police for wearing clothing or accessories featuring the Hatchetman. Stories circulated about Juggalos who had lost jobs, who had been turned away from enlisting in the armed services, who had seen their dubious gang member status used against them in custody battles, workplace disputes, parole hearings.
Some Juggalos, like King, found themselves entered into state gang databases, and worry their gang member status will crop up again and again when applying for a job, renting an apartment or adopting a child.
In 2014, Insane Clown Posse, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, filed suit against the justice department, alleging that the classification of Juggalos as a criminal gang was “unwarranted and unlawful”.
A federal judge dismissed the suit, stating that any wrongdoing that may have occurred was not the fault of the federal government. A subsequent appeal was also dismissed. The legalities are tricky: Juggalos have not appeared on the National Gang Intelligence Center’s list after 2011, but they have continued to be treated as gang members by many state and local authorities.
“We know this issue isn’t as big as racial profiling, or religious discrimination, or anything like that,” said Scott Donihoo, who is scheduled to speak at the march. “But it’s a big deal to us. It’s affecting a lot of our livelihoods.”
For some activists outside the Juggalo community, however, the plight of the Juggalos is not an isolated phenomenon; rather, it is emblematic of broader injustices: state surveillance, police misconduct, and mistreatment of the working class.
Juggalos are a heterogenous group, hailing from a variety of socioeconomic levels, but many – like the members of Insane Clown Posse themselves – come from suburban poverty. The Industrial Workers of the World has released a statement in solidarity with the Juggalos, stating that “repression targeting a working-class subculture, and setting a dangerous precedent of casting wide nets, has to be challenged”.
Laura King served gang probation for a year and a half. She is determined to attend the Juggalo March, though she is fearful of being arrested again. The gang task force officer has informed her that if she were to go to jail, her gang status means that she will be held in solitary confinement.
But this fight, for King, is worth the risk.
“If this can happen to us, and the American government gets away with it, it sets a dangerous precedent for what we allow in this country,” she said. “Who will it be next?”